Mitch Fifield picks up the cultural portfolio as Malcolm Turnbull listens to the arts community.
Senator the Honourable George Brandis QC has lost his role as the Australian Minister for the Arts in Malcolm Turnbull’s first cabinet as Prime Minister. He will be replaced by the former Assistant Minister for Social Services and Manager of Government Business in The Senate, Mitch Fifield, who also picked up the Communications portfolio.
After one of the longest nights in federal politics in recent memory, many within the arts community lobbied the new Prime Minister to dismiss Senator Brandis and reverse the changes to the arts funding infrastructure instituted in the Federal Budget. Turnbull, a man with a more visible enthusiasm for cultural activities than his predecessor, and who is regularly seen at theatre and other arts events in Sydney, was bombarded on social media by artists and arts lovers alike from the moment he emerged victorious over Tony Abbott on Monday night. The #FreeTheArts movement led the charge, urging supporters to contact Mr Turnbull and a protest took place outside his Wentworth electorate office in Sydney. Two days ago Nick Cave weighed in alongside 361 other Australian writers who signed an open letter calling for Brandis to be replaced.
Now it would seem that the new PM is making good on his promise to listen to the Australian people, aligning the arts portfolio with the more synergistic communications brief while putting a man with little visible arts experience into the post in place of Brandis who was seen by many as a cultural dilettante using the arts ministry to reward companies that aligned with his personal tastes and enthusiasms.
The new Minister is the first to hold both arts and communications portfolios since Richard Alston in John Howard’s first ministry. A social conservative who is opposed to gay marriage, Fifield’s only previous run in with artists occurred when he clashed with Tim Winton, Richard Flanagan, Toni Collette and others over restrictions on book imports back in 2009.
He will now have to consider the validity going forward of the newly created National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA), which pulled $104 million from the Australia Council, and react to the thousands of written submissions from artists and arts organisations heard at the Senate Inquiry investigating the impact of the NPEA on the Australian arts sector. All cultural eyes will be on the new minister in the days and weeks ahead.